THE auction for whisky liqueur brand Drambuie has stepped up, as a drinks industry analyst cast doubt on the mooted £100 million price tag attached to the company.
Glasgow-based Drambuie, made from a secret recipe which legend suggests originates from Bonnie Prince Charlie, has been linked with a takeover by William Grant & Sons, owner of The Glenfiddich single malt Scotch whisky.
The speculation comes after Drambuie's owning MacKinnon family appointed advisers at Rothschild to explore the sale of the business in May.
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A move for Drambuie would appear to fit the strategy of the family-owned distiller, which acquired the spirits and liqueur business of Dublin-based C&C Group for €300 million in 2010.
That deal brought Carolans Irish Cream, whisky liqueur Irish Mist, and Frangelico, the hazelnut liqueur from Italy, into the William Grant portfolio, as well as Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey.
But it is understood the distiller is just one of a house of major names in the frame.
Diageo, owner of Baileys Irish cream liqueur, and Pernod Ricard, whose portfolio includes Kahlua coffee liqueur, are among those with the resources to bid.
Remy Martin, the French company behind Cointreau orange liqueur and Islay's Bruichladdich Distillery, has been linked in press reports with a bid.
The bidding process is still believed to have some way to run, with no clear front runner at this stage.
According to its most recent annual return at Companies House, the majority of the ordinary A shares in Drambuie are owned by the MacKinnnon family, with the remainder held by Dutch company Rokal Handelmaatschappij En Finacieringmij.
Drambuie does not own a distillery, and makes its liqueur under a partnership with Morrison Bowmore in Glasgow.
Whisky analyst Alan Gray said the speculation linking William Grant with a bid "would make a lot of sense" in light of the distiller's expansion plans, but noted the £100 million price tag " does seems quite rich".
He said: "I could see why they [William Grant] would be interested, I think that would be a very good fit for them.
"But the price that is indicated would seem a very full price to me. It [Drambuie] is well known, but because of the category and the lack of substantial marketing muscle in the past, it's probably not fulfilled its potential.
"But it is well known and you see it in the big airports, duty free and that sort of thing, so it does have a lot of exposure there."
In its most recent accounts at Companies House, Drambuie, reported pre-tax profits of £3.44 million for the year ended June 30, last year. The results showed signs of recovery in southern Europe, where a one per cent sales fall was described by chief executive Michael Kennedy as a "far cry" from the declines in the prior two to three years.
There was also a 17 per cent sales uplift in the UK, its second biggest market behind the US.
Mr Gray, who also cited Canada, the US, Australia and Holland as important markets, added: "I think potentially there is quite a lot you could do with it in a bigger portfolio under the right marketing hands.
"In addition, I could see it could fit into a lot of others' [portfolios], even companies like Diageo.
"I would think all the big companies must be looking at it."
A spokesman for William Grant & Sons said the company does not comment on speculation.
The Drambuie Liqueur Company declined to comment.